Constructing an Open Table Campaign for D&D 5e part 2

Spoiler Alert: If you are a player in the open table games you should not read this if you do not wish to spoil any sense of suspense, or to lesson the enjoyment of revelation during exploration.
You have been warned.

Following on from Part 1 the next step was to work out some specifics at a high level. What are the ruins, what are humans, elves and dwarves doing in this place, what is the nature of the dragons?

I had decided the elves were only a remnant people, all that is left of a fallen civilisation. I also had a rough idea of how Dragons would behave to allow them to dominate the landscape without demolishing all civilisation. I had decided there is a young blue dragon, son of one of the green dragons and not quite old enough to strike out for his preferred habitat.

In general I intend to use monsters straight out of  the monster manual, with hit points as stated, and use the GM guide random encounter tables where appropriate for random encounters. I have a general system for encounters where the dice choose between a random creature, a keyed creature for the hex, a projection of a keyed creature from another hex or an event, including weather changes. This is in line with my Low Prep Philosophy.

There is more detail than that that will eventually be needed but it does not all have to be developed before play can start. The campaign will become richer as play begins. So with just this amount of vague information I played the first session. That has led to the creation of Lord Binare, some fleshing out of the terrain near Polemar, a secret bad guy in the hex to the south of town, some information about the blue dragon, a series of events and threads dangling from them about trade and dangers on the roads and the elves have been more deeply cast as outcast by the humans and dwarves. Then I played the second session which has fleshed out a little more.

So lets look a bit more at….

The Nature of Dragons

Dragons in this campaign are a single species. Their children may be any dragon type rather than breeding true by colour. The dragon life-cycle has some behaviour attached:

  • Wyrmlings live in the lair of the dragon where their egg was hatched, usually the lair of either the father or mother.
  • Young dragons leave the birth lair and set up their own lair just on the edge of the older dragons territory. There they begin to build strength and amass a portable treasure. When they are about to become adults they set off for their preferred terrain type, however far that may be, to set up their own extended lair and begin seeking a mate and extending their treasure.
  • Adult dragons have extended lairs and minions. Within 5 to 15 miles of their lair they will have a bathing space, a feeding space, a reclining space, a pedestal and amphitheatre on which to sit and give orders to their minions, and a tribute space where their minions bring them treasure and food. When a male wishes to mate he also builds an offering space and loads it up with the treasure he is willing to part with in exchange for a female to mate with. If a female takes the treasure she will mate with the male and lay d6 eggs, half in his lair and half in hers. Each of the six  hexes adjacent to the lair hex may have one, and only one, of the special places. Adult dragons will fight any dragon that enters their realm other than their mate or the children that they reared from a wyrmling.
  • Ancient dragons no longer seek to mate, but they do like to continue to amass their treasure and adorn their special places to aggrandise themselves. They no longer tolerate any other dragon in their territory.

Adult dragons establish their lair in their preferred territory type and will recruit minions to do the boring work, though the dragons do like to construct part of their own structures, and especially to adorn them in various ways.

Minions will be goblins , bullywugs, kobolds, gnolls, and lizardfolk, with 2d6-1 settlements in hexes outside of the dragon’s domain, only one in any given hex.

Young dragons will raid civilised areas for treasure from time to time, usually merchant caravans are targeted. They will commonly attempt to get a chest or a sack of treasure without having to bother fighting for it, unless they are hungry, or cranky, or its a Tuesday.

Adult dragons don’t bother to raid anywhere, getting their minions to bring them treasure and food in return for some somewhat unreliable protection, although fear will often keep enemies away. So the minions can be found raiding civilised lands and also mining and fashioning treasure of their own.

If a dragon with a treasure lair dies then the following tends to happen in roughly this order.

  1. any young dragon wards will raid the lair for portable treasure. If there are several wards they may fight over it, some may die.
  2. adults seeking to build a lair in this area will try to take up residence in the lair. Again this can result in a fight if there is more than one contender.
  3. If no dragon takes up residence then the minions will immediately look to raiding the lair for as much treasure as they can grab. They will kill any wyrmlings if they are present and eat any unhatched eggs. Combat may break out among the minions.
  4. Bandits and adventurers tend to be the next group to show up looking to get what they can from the lair.
  5. A military force from a local lord may also arrive to try and lay claim to everything they can.

Think of dragon lairs as a set of rings. The inner ring is the lair area, then the dragon lifestyle ring where minions will be found interacting with the dragon, then the minion encampment ring and finally the minion raid and forage area around the outside.

This sets up a lot of scope for encounters, treasures and rumours in the hexes within 20 to 30 miles of each dragon.

Extra Spell Slots

In some hexes I have locations where spell casters may gain extra spell slots. This is the general rule for these places:

A character cannot gain new extra slots until all existing extra slots they hold have been used up. They can gain multiple at once if the location allows it.

When the extra spell slot is used it is gone and does not recover. If there are normal spell slots available the character can choose to use the extra slot or one of their normal ones.

The spell slot has a level that is set by the character at the time it is received. It may not be a higher level than the character could normally cast, nor higher than the maximum the location provides.

The method of gaining the extra spell slots will be explained for each location. Characters capable of gaining these slots will feel how to do so on a DC 15 arcana check after 8 hours of studying the location in person. Only 4 hours study is possible, but at disadvantage. 12 hours straight will give advantage. Another appropriate spell caster who knows the secret of the location can explain it over a period of 10 minutes, while at the location, allowing an arcana check at DC 15 less the instructors arcana bonus. Once a character knows how to use a location they do not need to check again.

This mechanism may replace my idea about required ceremonies. i.e. a system of gaining a bonus for worshipful behaviour rather than an obligation to perform actions to keep existing abilities. I’ll keep working on this.

The Big Hex Items

Now lets articulate what is the key element in every hex on the map. Where a hex may get a projection from nearby hexes I will list the possibilities.


PDF: Polemar Hex Glance Sheet

The pdf has an entry for every hex. It is what I call a glance sheet. There are no stat blocks or numbers of creatures or treasure etc. There is just enough information for play to move forward on the fly. Note that several places need to be detailed at dungeon crawl level. If players go there before I have created them then I will generate them on the fly using my general description as guiding context.

To aid in your understanding of how big a 10 mile hex is here is my ready reckoner for comparative settlement sizes.


Also a typical farmer would work about 3 x 1/10 mile hexes of land (roughly 20 acres), and a 1 mile mile hex should contain enough farms for about 200 people, give or take. So a 10 mile hex can contain enough farm land to surround and support a city up to about 15,000 people. Larger settlements will  want to borrow farmland from adjacent hexes. This all assumes a fairly compact layout of course so larger extents are perfectly feasible.

On this map the dragons fly about from place to place about their lairs. I don’t have a roster for them but its not needed, I just play by ear and the occasional projection encounter roll. Similarly caravans ply the roads and could be rostered, but work better as randomly chosen projection encounters. The many minion groups all have hunter gatherer activity to perform, weapons to smith, buildings to build and loot to steal, as well as warring with each other. When not doing that they are engaged in fulfilling the needs of their draconic overlords.

Between Session Lifestyle

Each session the players that have continuing characters account for what their characters were doing in the days since their last logged adventuring day.

Character Upkeep

Do this for each 5 day block (left over days get added to the last block making it from 5 to 9 days long)

  1. declare lifestyle (must be able to afford the lifestyle for the whole period).
  2. each day passing
    1. Determine income from any sources
    2. pay lifestyle upkeep costs
    3. determine experience conversion, update character and possessions as appropriate.
  3. determine life incident for this block of days

Life Incident Checks

Lifestyle Upkeep Cost / Day Life Event DM
Wretched _ -3
Squalid 1 sp -2
Poor 2 sp -1
Modest 1 gp _
Comfortable 2 gp +1
Wealthy 4 gp +2
Aristocratic 10 gp +3

Roll D20 adjusted by the life event DM for the lifestyle of the current block of days.

1 or less Illness – gain an illness that will keep your exhausion at +1 for 2d6 – con mod days, or negate robust health if currently held.
2 to 3 Robbed – lose d100gp worth of cash, gems or equipment in that order.
4 Enemy – you gain a new enemy among the folk that live nearby, or lose a friend. Charisma check vs DC15 to avoid this event.
5 to 16 No incident
17 Friend – you gain a new friend among the folk that live nearby, or lose an enemy. Charisma check vs DC15 for this event to occur.
18 to 19 Windfall – you gain d100gp from a business windfall or generous patron
20 or more Robust Health – gain advantage on CON saves for 2d6 + CON mod days or negate Illness.

Watches and Encounters

These are the watches of the day. Once each watch while hex crawling there is an encounter roll.

The wee hours 3am to 6am
Morn 7am to 10am Dawn is 7am
Mid day 11am to 2pm
Afternoon 3pm to 6pm
Eve 7pm to 10pm Dusk is 7pm
Dead of night 11pm to 2am

If an encounter is called for then the hour of the watch where the encounter occurs can be picked using D6 / 2. If more time accuracy is needed use D6 to determine which 10 minute block in the chosen hour will contain the encounter. Greater accuracy is overdoing it and you can use judgement to fix the appropriate moment.

To determine if there is an encounter roll D20 on the following table for each watch.

1 or 2 Key related encounter
3 or 4 Projection related encounter
5 or 6 Random encounter
7 or 8 Weather event
9 to 20 No random encounter

For now Key, Projection and Random encounters can just be chosen from the glance list or the creatures indicated in the Game Master’s Guide Appendix B. Weather events can be changes of weather from the default for the season or some impact such as flooding or a snow drift falling from a tree and so on as I see fit. I’ll build some more comprehensive structures for this later. For now its enough.

Key related encounters are encounters with the things keyed to the hex. This does not mean that characters cannot move into the specific location of a goblin village or whatever. Once players know where something is they can reliably go to it or avoid it. However a key related encounter will suggest that the creature is wandering away from its lair if the players are specifically avoiding the lair location.

Encounter deadliness can be determined with a D10 where it is useful.

1 = deadly, 2 to 4 = hard, 5 to 8 = medium, 9 or 10 = easy.

In the following spreadsheet:

  1. Plug in the number of characters at each level for the party.
  2. Plug in tentative numbers of creature at each CR level
  3. Read of the corresponding difficulty highlighted in yellow
  4. Return to step 2 and adjust creature numbers until you are happy with the decision

Combat Encounter Reckoner Spreadsheet

And to end this prep session here is the handout map for new players. Each player can add their own notes and discoveries as they go.


On to Part 3

Public Open Table Basics


2 thoughts on “Constructing an Open Table Campaign for D&D 5e part 2

  1. Pingback: Constructing an Open Table Campaign for D&D 5e part 1 – Strange Flight

  2. Pingback: Constructing an Open Table Campaign for D&D 5e part 3 – Strange Flight

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